I have always had a soft spot for the poor and needy in community, and had in years past been privileged to go into areas where poor people lived and worked and raised their families. I had always come away humbled and grateful at the same time.
I realised that it would take a mind shift to go from poverty to progress, even prosperity, and that it was a long road. Governments and policies can change, but having a poverty mind-set will keep communities in poverty.
Over the years I have come to know that there are levels of poverty, and there are levels of wealth. That is the way of life. Secretly I have always had an inclination to regard the rich with a bit of disdain. Why I do not know. Perhaps it is a wrong perception, perhaps it was unfair judging of those who think they have it all, but more often than not, have the arrogance to match it. There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. But it brings with it a lurking arrogance, that can morph into greed, and that will stealthily steal from man’s character. Few can wear wealth well.
But then I suppose, there are degrees of arrogance in all of us, whether rich or poor or somewhere in between.
In recent years I have had the privilege to live among those who seemingly have more than enough wealth. It is good to live in an area where money can buy and maintain a beautiful environment, – necessarily so for the many wealthy tourists who come to visit, and spend their money in our ‘little village’
Umhlanga Rocks has an interesting history. The Oyster Box Hotel is one of the oldest, and one of the beautiful hotels where the rich and famous reside when they visit our shores. The iconic Umhlanga Light House is right on the beach in front of the hotel, which makes it that more special.
In years gone by, the hotel was first a shack, then a tea garden, owned by a brother and sister. Later, it became a restaurant.
In 1954 the hotel was built, and has grown into a five-star status hotel.
It has always been a little dream of mine, to one day, have afternoon tea at the famous Oyster Box Hotel. Well I can tell you that dreams do come true.
My son Gareth and his friend Kerry came for a visit. Now Gareth has an inclination to spoil, and Kerry loves cake, as I do ! He decided to arrange for Kerry and I to have High Tea at – the Oyster Box !!
Near the stairway, in the lobby, was a stunning floral arrangement. At first glance it looked like a giant pineapple. It was made up of bright red, and costly Antirrhinum flowers.
It was a fascinating experience. Just walking into the hotel is an assault on the sense of opulence. It speaks of bigger, better and brighter. The lobby had, within it, an alcove surrounded by mirrored glass. Glass table tops and white furniture gave the impression of a transparent but secret meeting place.
In The Palm Court, the palm pots were bigger than usual, the ceilings higher with many fans cooling the air, and the palms grew high and large, to give a sense of tropical fullness.
A man was playing a piano in the Tea room, as we were ushered in and shown our reserved table. The tea cups were of fine porcelain, with a pretty pink flower design. A white starched napkin, was unfolded and placed on my lap by a friendly hostess.
You could choose your tea of preference from a box of assorted teas that was presented to you with a gloved hand. Boiling water arrived in a little glass tea-pot, which you could pour when you were ready to do so.
The cake and savouries, were all arranged on a centre table, that were literally loaded on all sides, with all kinds of everything delightful and delectable. A feast for the eyes and the palate.
My words could not do justice to the charm of the day, so I hope these few pictures will give you a better appreciation of the opulence I touched in the Palm Court of the Oyster Box Hotel, one sunny afternoon in Umhlanga Rocks, situated this side of paradise !
An old song I once heard, went something like this ‘ You gotta have a dream to have a dream come true.’ So dream on, it may come along quicker than you think.
And thank you to Gareth and Kerry for making my dream come true !!
Go and break some paradigms, and extend the horizon of your appreciations.
Sometimes it takes words of affirmation to create an atmosphere for going from good to great. You may be the Cinderella of all the cities in South Africa, but you have the power of attraction for those who need time off from the merry-go-round of life.
But you are more than that. You are a kaleidoscope of hope, of contrasts and diversity, set in a paradise of green.
Durban you are a port on the East Coast of Africa.
Ships from afar, carriers of merchandise, wait their turn to enter your port, to foster the economy of the South. And hope does not go unnoticed as the number of these ships have increased dramatically over the years – reminding us that indeed you are ‘a market place for nations’.
A city of lay-back laziness that can trap the diligent and industrious person with a lethargy brought on by the gentle tropical climes of a warm ocean current. “Tomorrow is another day” well may be the creed you live by – and yet ! The steady onward everyday flow of the inevitable, continues to urge you to perform your duties with diligence. Your history is rich, your position is well place for the growth of a new emerging world on the African continent.
Your Oil Refineries are strategic, as are your marketable industries on the south side of your city. The southbound road takes your travellers back on a memory road, to old favourite holiday resorts, that have filled up many family photo albums with sweet memories of lazy sun-filled bucket and spade holidays.
Quite uniquely, in the heart of your city, are the Durban Botanical Gardens. Noticed, apart from its magnificence, is the peace that lingers there. Now if ever the Good Lord would want a cathedral to live in, it would surely be in this majestic cathedral of green – a garden with its huge trees that were planted some 300 years ago. It is one of Africa’s oldest botanical gardens, and I suspect by far the best on the continent.
Your inner city now scarcely reflects the former heyday of your holidaymakers’ favourite destination. It has become crowded and derelict, as most inner cities are, with the influx of those desperate for employment and cheap accommodation. Yet, two or three blocks up, on your sea-side, are found well-kept paved promenades. Walkways with tall hotels, all with sea-views, that tell a different story of who you were, and now want to become.
A city caught with one foot in a developed world, the other foot still entangled in poverty. And indeed is this not the state of any modern city in the world of today ? A world on a runaway train toward globalisation no matter the cost – for there is always a cost, there is always a price to pay for progress and development !
Now going northward – the touch of your colonial history is still markedly seen in your suburban landscape of the yesterday-wealth. Grand homes in beautiful tree-lined streets with lush green gardens, steeped in your recent history of refined living. Planted and painted into a part of the master portrait of South Africa’s history of diversity. Durban you are a world showcase for diversity.
But time moves on.
And a new era, for some, has arrived. A time of unprecedented sophisticated living, as seen in the great shopping mall of Gateway Theatre of Shopping, some say the largest in the southern hemisphere, and the brand new developments of the Pearl towers for renowned accommodation.
Umhlanga Rocks reveals your ability to transform yourself, yet again, into an international tourist destination with its new modern high-rise Pearl towers and hotels, – contrasted by the ever loved ‘little village’ where the locals still meet and converse over a pint of brew.
A promenade of note with its iconic Whalebones Pier that enables one to walk on water! The recognised landmark of Umhlanga Rocks, the red and white light-house, a beacon of light, near the world-famous Oyster Box Hotel. No expense is spared, nothing but the best is offered to presidents and kings, and the visitors of Europe and the Elsewheres of the world.
Still northward bound on route to the new King Shaka International Airport., the outskirts of the city give a show of brilliant green that is seen in the waving sugar cane fields, and the rolling hills that call out ‘ go the distance !’
Beautiful are the green hills of Kwa Zulu Natal – the green Province with its emerald-green beauty and flowing hills, a setting fit for prosperity – equally so for the penny and for the soul.
Going further north through the sugar cane fields, the main road will bring us to the mushrooming town of Ballito Bay, one of South Africa’s fastest growing modern real estate developments.
But if we are astute we will notice the road signs that take us off the main highway to settlements and townships that do not enjoy an acclaim to wealth.
And if we travel far enough we may encounter the rural folk of another world. A folk that have not yet made the leap from poverty to ‘progress’ – but have so much to offer with their rich cultural heritage.
The very wide gap from the arrogant and unsaturated rich in their affluent towers and malls to the simplistic living of the rural inhabitants is a screaming silent reality.
Inequality is a stamp on all our record sheets.
And it is in this ever-widening gap that a paradigm shift needs to occur, a miracle needs to happen, so that you can go from good to great. Pay attention also to the needs of the poorest of the poor, so that they can rise up and experience a kind of progress too.
Herein lies your miracle, bridging the gap between two worlds, if not three, – the haves, the have-nots, and the have-yachts !
Nevertheless all worlds can offer their own version and contribution toward ‘being rich’ – whatever that may mean, each in their own way. For sometimes the rich are not rich, and the poor are not poor. Sometimes the ‘developed world’ has much to learn about being “civilised”, the knowing of ‘Ubuntu’ – respect – simple courtesy, simple humanity ! Someone once said, ‘ courtesy is the first rung on the ladder toward civilisation ‘ – something the 4×4 riders, taxi drivers and road-ragers need to know and understand !
As a City you have kept up with your own transformation – indeed you have to do so, for your saving grace is in the lucrative revenue that lies in the holiday and tourist trade, robust business and employment, and of course the fine revenues from the Ports and Customs.
But most noteworthy of all are your peoples – a vast array of cultures within your social perimeters, which is the very fabric of your rich design, all gems in the crown of your disposition.
The Zulu people, with their ancestral and stout warrior history with colourful beads that tell their stories;
The rowdy yet gentle influence of the British, intertwined into your history.
The colourful vibrancy of the Indian culture, with their special cuisine of aromatic spices, curries and of course the famous Durban Bunny Chow.
The African People with their new-found vehement political clamour, coming to terms with power, and what that truly means, moulding the nation for tomorrow.
Indeed a beautiful mosaic of cultures, living side by side by the sea, in peace and harmony. Amazing microscopic worlds within a world, called Durban.
Your people and your children are easy, fun-loving, and sunshine kids – and daring too. Totally Sports obsessed, with any reason to walk, run, ride, swim, surf or canoe an epic event – a case in point the Comrades Marathon. A marathon of well over 90 kilometres between Durban and the hilly countryside of Pietermaritzburg. Who thinks out such things !!?
Great are your vistas for sports, but more so are your spectacular views of land and seascapes that lend wings to those who need to be lifted higher.
Durban, you are like a brilliant green emerald gem, an often overlooked gem, among the chief cities of South Africa. Slowly going about your daily business of business, culture and sport, with the determined purpose of welcoming your visitors from afar with warmth and hospitality. Hospitality that inborn trait you carry off so well.
No better place to see, no better place to be other than in “Durbs by the Sea” as our upcountry folk would say, when they pack for their annual holiday to crowd out your beaches with abandoned glee.
Durban, as the sunshine state of South Africa, you should surely be on the ‘must see list’ of the global community. You may take your place with pride, among the ranks of other destinations who strive for the recognition of ‘most beautiful place in the world ‘ – nonetheless contrasted by ‘new worlds’ waiting to be born into prosperity.
When your visitors step into this green paradise, they will surely hear the wind and the waves softly whisper : “You are welcome here”.